ABOVE: Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu members practice their performance for the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition next month on Oahu. BELOW: Eleven-year-old Fuka Tokitsu, who is a member of Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu in Japan, practices for the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition. (Photos by Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Eleven-year-old Fuka Tokitsu, who is a member of Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu in Japan, practices for the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition, which the halau is participating in next month on Oahu. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Twelve-year-old Jasmine Carter recently spent time in Waipio Valley, swimming up streams, maneuvering through thick bamboo, just trying to follow a precipitous and slick trail filled with wet vegetation.
Upon first view of the legendary waterfall roaring majestically, with water seemingly pouring out of the clouds, falling more than 1,000 feet and disappearing into the cool mist, she knew it — Hiilawe.
It’s the waterfall she researched and spent hours trying to embody while dancing to Sam Lia Kalainaina Sr.’s song. Her visit Sunday was more than a fun outing with her father, Kalainaina’s great-grandson and Kumu Kenneth Victor of Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu. It was an opportunity to go beyond the literal meaning of the famous song, honor his well-crafted imagery, foster a connection, develop a sense of place and dance at the waterfall’s base — all of which will help next month when Carter performs her solo at a prestigious hula competition on Oahu.
“I love hula because you get to dress up and perform. When you dance, everything is so beautiful,” Carter said. “I have performed a solo once in Japan, but I’m still nervous. I also know if I just keep practicing, all of my hard work will pay off. I now know more than Hiilawe’s height and how beautiful it is, which is important.”
Carter is one of 18 Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu members participating July 19 to 21 in the Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula Competition at the Blaisdell Center. The halau has competed six years at the event, usually earning awards, and is often the only Kona participant. Sometimes, it’s the only Hawaii Island halau, Victor said.
Called the Junior Merrie Monarch, the competition provides an opportunity for children, ages 6 to 12, to competitively demonstrate their achievements in hula. The three-day event, established in 1975 by the Kalihi-Palama Culture & Arts Society, features a Miss and Master Keiki Hula competition, as well as ancient and modern hula competitions.
For months, Halau Kalaakeakauikawekiu has prepared for competition. The group practices five days a week for three to four hours, of which at least two are dedicated to hula. There were research projects, which required students to delve into the details behind songs, such as “No Ka Pueo Kahi” by Samuel Kalani Kaea. Competition songs are taught in early spring. The girls have bonded through sleepovers, complete with a pajama fashion show and games, as well as through events like the Kamehameha Day hoolaulea, Victor said.
With endless support from their families and community, several fundraisers were held, with proceeds going toward sending the halau to competition. Each student must raise $1,300. The trip’s estimated cost is $30,000, of which the halau has approximately $20,000 to date. Any support is welcome and appreciated, Victor said.
Besides the competition, the group will visit the Bishop Museum, Royal Mausoleum, Ice Palace and Wet ‘n’ Wild Hawaii Water Park for learning and reward purposes. For many of the girls, this is their first time leaving the island or traveling without their parents, Victor said. He looks forward to “exposing (his) country kids to the big city,” as well as “seeing them sparkle on stage” and finding camaraderie with those who love hula and preserving Hawaiian culture as much as they do.
Polaa Yim started hula at age 7, then took a break to play tennis, only to return to hula for one reason: “It’s half of who I am.”
“I used to think I loved hula because I wanted to be like my mom, who grew up dancing with kumu in the same halau,” the 12-year-old Kailua-Kona resident said. “I realize it’s my passion. Like my hula sisters, I believe hula is not a hobby, but a lifestyle.”
For more information, call 989-4616.